Let's take a moment to reset the storylines.
+ The Cincinnati Bengals may or may not have Kevin Zeitler this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts. And I'm alright with that either way.
+ It's a bit premature for long-term planning, but the team should consider keeping Andrew Whitworth at guard.
+ Comparing Injured Reserve this year from last.
+ Sunday will be more of an ice bowl than freezer bowl.
+ More on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
According to reports, Kevin Zeitler worked on the side during Wednesday's practice but he's still being listed as a did not participate. It's possible that this was expected, helping to rebuild his endurance after missing three weeks (including the bye) and gradually getting back into his grove for Thursday and Friday. Despite Zeitler being a good offensive guard, he's been dealing with the proverbial sophomore slump. Not bad. But his production as a pass blocker hasn't been as solid as it was during his rookie season. When Cameron Wake sidestepped Zeitler against Miami to sack Dalton for a game-winning safety, Zeitler placed his hands on the crown of his helmet in disbelief. And that remains etched in my mind.
Anyway, I'd do my typical song and dance as aging Bengals fan. "Oh no, he can't play. What are we going to do?" But the reality is that Cincinnati's performance against the San Diego Chargers was so impressive, that there's relatively little concerned. If Zeitler returns as the starting right guard, great. If not, Mike Pollak, a former starter with the Indianapolis Colts, will suffice.
But why not ride the wave of momentum? When Bengals guard Clint Boling went down in the first quarter with a torn ACL last Sunday, Cincinnati moved Andrew Whitworth into his spot and the glorious revolution of the Bengals offensive line went off. Over 160 yards rushing, a touchdown, multiple third down conversions that time traveled the fourth quarter, and a fairly clean jersey for Andy Dalton should start a movement to settle Whitworth at guard permanently for the rest of the season.
"He didn't miss a beat. He was fired up. He was pulling great and making some great blocks," backup guard Mike Pollak said via Bengals.com, who could play this Sunday depending on Kevin Zeitler's rehabilitation. "He really took a leadership role out there and getting guys fired up to be out there. You've seen Whit through the years and this season. He's a fiery guy and when he gets in that mode it inspires others."
"He inspired everyone," Alexander said via Bengals.com about Whitworth's performance on Sunday. "I told him (Wednesday that) it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Philip of Macedonia that says ‘an army of deer led by a lion is more feared than an army of lion led by a deer.’ He was that way, he was ferocious. You want your leader to be a lion and not a deer. He was a tiger."
The Bengals have been fairly tight-lipped about their plan for Sunday (not that we need to know right now anyway). If Zeitler is ready to play, he'll go. If not, Mike Pollak will make his third start. The greater question is, what will the Bengals do if Zeitler is ready? Do they plug him in at right guard and move Pollak to left guard, replacing Boling who is gone for the year? Or do they keep the same configuration from Sunday's 17-10 win over the Chargers where, again, the rushing offense gained over 160 yards on the ground and kept Andy Dalton relatively upright.
Same Number, Bigger Impact
When Clint Boling went on Injured Reserve Tuesday, he became the ninth player to join the season-ending injury list. At this point last year, the Bengals also had nine players on IR, lead by Travelle Wharton, Jamaal Anderson and Thomas Howard, rounded out with a lot of special teams/role players on the list from Bernard Scott, Tony Dye, Brandon Ghee, Shaun Prater, Taveon Rogers and Robert Sands.
The number hasn't changed, but the players are far more substantial. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall currently lead the way, joined by Boiling who makes the third starter. Emmanuel Lamur, Taylor Mays and Robert Geathers were significant contributors. Rookies Larry Black and Sean Porter had promising camps and the redemption story of Brandon Joiner needs another year before it translates to the field.
And through all of this, the Bengals haven't missed a beat. Their defense is tops in the league and special teams contributions remains top-notch.
The Weather Looks Icy.
Early indications are that Cincinnati will have a winter weather event on Friday, take a breather on Saturday with an ice and/or freezing rain event on Sunday. Not that I'm one for superstition or "jinxing", but a dome team playing the Cincinnati Bengals, who are primarily defensive with developing ability to take over a game on the ground, in that?
Dalton has been good, but Bengals shouldn't settle, says ESPN
I'm not one bringing this up, so don't snap at me. One reader dropped off this ESPN Insider piece written by Mike Sando, who opines that while Andy Dalton has been good at times, Cincinnati shouldn't settle in the long run.
Two months ago, when the Cincinnati Bengals' talented young offense was faltering, we asked whether they could succeed with Andy Dalton at quarterback. Then, when Dalton put together three stellar performances during a four-game winning streak, we asked whether this version of Dalton was the real one. In four games since then, Dalton has a league-high nine interceptions. He ranks 32nd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt, passer rating and Total QBR in that span.
These wild swings have marked Dalton's career through 46 starts spread across three NFL seasons. The Bengals may be 8-4 and closing in on their third successive playoff spot with Dalton behind center, but those erratic performances are precisely why Cincinnati should draft a quarterback in 2014.
The Bengals won't feel any pressure to select one if they claim a playoff victory for the first time since 1990. And if Dalton lights it up in the postseason, all the better. But Cincy and a few other teams with glass-half-full quarterback situations shouldn't settle for the status quo unconditionally. They need viable alternatives in case their current starters have plateaued and the glass is half-empty.